Pounding the streets of Stoke-on-Trent
in search of a buried past

- 'the changing face of Cobridge'

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Etruria 'a factory in a garden'

Historian Fred Hughes writes....   

This is where the author Fred Leigh lived as a child. Through the pages of his acclaimed book Sentinel Street, he lets us into the lives of the characters of his childhood; miniature men and women creeping around cramped unhealthy cobblestone alleys, inhabiting draughty terraced houses, existing through poverty and means tests, dole, hand-me-down clothes, providence clubs and pawn shops. In Fred’s time it was Brook Street and Clarence Street, now it’s called Century Street.  


“It was a typical community built to serve an industry that hemmed it in,” says historian Steve Birks. “The Racecourse and Grange Collieries and the steelworks   employed the majority of these men and the Loop Line divided it like a twin town, an umbilical road connecting beneath a railway bridge. The eastern side of the bridge was slum cleared awhile ago along with Clarence Street Schools, Newhall Flint Mills, a large sluice reservoir, a coal wharf and of course the ever-present pot banks. The western side surrounding Portland Street is still there, but that is much changed.”

The Loop Line closed in 1963. And so did a mineral line linking Shelton Bar with Hanley Deep Pit. You can still make out its direction of travel marked by a greenway, ending forlornly at a blocked-up tunnel entrance. Skips wait outside boarded-up houses. Torn curtains flap in broken windows. Ugly graffiti sprays cynical messages on gateless walls along litter-strewn back alleys. In this village in limbo Derek and Jayne Horton keep a corner shop opposite the Portland Inn.

 “We’ve lived in the area over 20 years now,” says Derek. “We bought the shop five years ago from its long-time owner Mrs Beardmore. Not so long ago there were dozens of little shops around here but we’re on our own now. In fact, as I say to people who ask – we’re the last man standing. Soon we’ll be enclosed by the new circular road around Hanley. Then we’ll become an island surrounded by main roads.”


The western end of Century Street joining Cobridge Road is changing as well.

“On the 1775 Yates map there are a few buildings in the location called Cow Bridge located near the bottom of Sneyd Street,” continues Steve. “It’s an area that incorporates the length of road from Century Street to Sneyd Street and seems to have been the way to Hanley and Newcastle before Waterloo Road was built. I recall a former resident, Mrs Adkins, telling me her family kept a shop at number 348 Cobridge Road. It must have been on a corner and was formed from an original shop plus two cottages next door to the Black Boy pub. Directly opposite the shop were a pottery and a convent which was known as the Little Sisters of Mercy.”

Corner shops and pubs were undoubtedly a feature of working class communities. The road continuing through Cobridge crossroads was no exception. This was the start of Elder Road. But today everyone who was born, married and who reared families between Grange Street and Remer Street have left, their homes have been bulldozed into a weed-raddled tip waiting for redevelopment. Even the community on the other side broods killing time to hear what will happen when it’s their turn.

“Nobody is telling us straight,” says one resident preferring not to be named. “I’ve lived in this street for forty-years. I knew everybody and we all looked out for each other. But the trend of absent landlords has brought about the worst aspects. A lot of houses are boarded up; some already have been knocked down. Look at my house though. I’ve spent a fortune on its modernisation and decoration. Who’s going to compensate me for what it’s actually worth?”

A nearby scrap metal yard and skip hire business maintains a corner frontage in Elder Road. At the gateway a curious empty building stands at odds with its surroundings. A sign above the door carries the name White Horse.


“The land came into our family a hundred years ago,” explains the owner 57 year old Tony Carter. “It was owned by my great-grandmother Fanny Wilshaw. The building you mention was a pub called the White Horse. I don’t remember it being a pub; it was always used as a house and office. My great-grandmother was a scrap metal dealer. She’d sit in the yard with a bag of coins weighing and buying metal. Then my grandmother took over. Her name was Frances but everybody knew her as Girlie. She married into the Carter family and my dad George ran the business until he retired. Now I run it with my son Simon.”

Around the corner Blackwell’s Row once neighboured with Churchill Pottery. And that’s gone as well.

“It’s all change around here these days,” says Tony. “Come back in five years and it might be different again. Who knows?”


Visually pride of place goes to the Raven pub on the corner of Sneyd Street whose owners are Simon and Sarah Cullen.

“It is a very old establishment,” says Simon. “We’ve been here three years and have built up a steady trade of returning ex-pats. The Raven has had a chequered life; it was a biker’s pub awhile ago when its name then was the Pot ‘o Beer. I think we’ve got the balance right though now. Being a publican is a hard job these days; it’s increasingly hard to make a decent living. But I try to provide the facilities a good pub should be known for – hospitality, good food and drink.”

The exotically named Raven is of mid-Victorian origin, three storeys with added bays and a jumble of rooms that correspond to its traditional charm.

“This is old Cobridge,” says Steve. “Its history goes back into the mists of the early settlements. To put it into the historic timeline of the district we should have a more detailed look around its old lanes.”


And we shall Steve, next week.


Cobridge - the road from Hanley to Burslem

A walk around Cobridge - a Victorian Suburb


next week: Cobridge & the old lanes

click the "contents" button to get back to the main index & map
next: Cobridge - the Victorian suburb on the way to Burslem
Etruria 'a factory in a garden'

7 February 2008